Breaching the court’s dam of stability
It is easy to get lost in the raging debate regarding the ouster of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno through quo warranto. It may be important to take a different perspective: that of intended result.
Quo warranto, as lawyers explain, is a way to challenge a government official’s right to occupy an office. In other words, it is a way a public official can be removed by questioning the validity of his or her appointment.
But while the law recognizes the need to remove, it also recognizes the need to stabilize. Quo warranto cannot be invoked without a time limit; there is a prescribed period of one year. For how can government functionaries perform at their level best when there is a perpetual sword of Damocles hanging over their heads?
The law assumes that for a patently illegal appointment, one year is a reasonable time for discovery. After one year, the law takes cognizance of the presumption of regularity, that the person is indeed qualified to hold the position. It is also very clear that making the “time of discovery” as the start of reckoning for the one-year prescribed period is a runaway bull that will wreck havoc on the law’s intent for stability.
Impeachment is also a means to remove certain officials, including the chief justice and associate justices, but for acts of abuse committed while in office. And, as in the case of quo warranto, while impeachment is a way to remove an official, ironically, it also promotes stability.
In the case of the chief justice, the independence of the judiciary and the balance of power among the three branches of government are of paramount importance. Impeachment effectively protects the Supreme Court from harassment, because it is a very arduous process that can be undertaken only by both chambers of Congress.
If quo warranto takes cognizance of the presumption of regularity, so should impeachment. And because impeachable officials perform critical functions, they go through a more rigid selection process, even detailed in the Constitution, so that in this case their appointment can be presumed regular right at its inception.
Opening impeachable officials to quo warranto negates the value of the constitutionally mandated selection process, and undermines instead the stability of the government.
The removal of Sereno from office has breached the dam of stability that protects the government. If unchecked, this power will gradually erode the dam and lead to disaster.
But there is still time; Sereno has submitted a motion for reconsideration. We hope members of the Supreme Court can rise above their personal sentiments, choose what is best for the country, and thereby put a bright note on the pages of our history books.
CRISTINO S. SANTOS, [email protected]
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